Russian lawmaker: I estimate there are two million Ukrainian Nazis whom we'll need to eliminate

Russian lawmaker: I estimate there are two million Ukrainian Nazis whom we'll need to eliminate

Perfectly normal people, doing their best to cope psychologically with their country’s downgrade from “major power” status.

One read on Putin is that it’s silly to worry about giving him an “off-ramp” from the war since he can spin any outcome as a glorious victory through the magic of Russian propaganda. It doesn’t matter how little Russia gains from its occupation — flattened cities, resentful natives, a perpetual low-grade insurgency. Ukraine doesn’t need to make concessions to the tsar to get him to stand down, writes Timothy Snyder, since the Russian people will believe, or pretend to believe, they’ve won irrespective of what concessions are made.

I get that. But if you watch enough clips like this and read enough stories about Russian veterans complaining that Putin hasn’t been ruthless enough, you wonder if he’s finally built a monster he can’t control. One of Putin’s chief critics is former FSB agent Igor Girkin, who led the fight in the Donbas in 2014 and complains chronically about the current war. “Girkin claimed that the Kremlin has forgone the ideological underpinnings of the conflict by focusing the conflict on the Donbas, rather than the entirety of Ukraine,” the Institute of the Study for War reports. “Girkin complained that Kremlin officials are no longer questioning the legitimacy of the existence of Ukraine and that the concepts of ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ have been forgotten.” People can only absorb only so many hours of lies about Nazis and drug addicts, etc etc, across the border before concluding that anything less than annihilating the Ukrainian state would be dangerously reckless. For some Russians, the enemy simply can’t be murdered or tortured or raped enough.

If Russia’s army eventually succeeds in sealing off the Donbas and Putin declares victory, what will he say to lunatics like this when he’s asked, What about all the Nazis who are left?

The all-out Russian assault on Sievierodonetsk is hard to explain if Putin’s propaganda sorcery is as comprehensive as Snyder claims. The city is unimportant strategically but important symbolically as the largest in the Donbas. Moscow wants, or needs, a concrete victory in order to solidify its claim over eastern Ukraine and to give morale a shot in the arm. It’s working:

The latest word from Sievierodonetsk is that the Russians have seized half the city, although it barely qualifies as a city anymore:

Russian forces in a “frenzied push” have seized half of the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk that is key to Moscow’s efforts to quickly complete the capture of the industrial Donbas region, the mayor told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“The city is essentially being destroyed ruthlessly block by block,” Oleksandr Striuk said. He said heavy street fighting continues and artillery bombardments threaten the lives of the estimated 13,000 civilians still sheltering in the ruined city that once was home to more than 100,000…

Military analysts described the fight for Sievierodonetsk as part of a race against time for the Kremlin.

Phone service and electrical power are out. The regional governor told the Guardian that the Russians “use the same tactics over and over again. They shell for several hours – for three, four, five hours – in a row and then attack. Those who attack die. Then the shelling and attack follow again, and so on until they break through somewhere.” It’s inevitable, it seems, that the remaining Ukrainian troops in the city will retreat across the river to Lysychansk:

Why are the Ukrainians refusing to concede the city if it’s destined to fall to the Russians anyway? That’s where the “race against time” part for Russia comes in.

Three days ago Putin signed a bill eliminating the age cap on recruits for the Russian military. Those over 40 are now free to serve. Last week came news that the Russian army was dusting off antiquated T-62 tanks that haven’t been updated in decades and sending them into Ukraine. The Ukrainian strategy in Sievierodonetsk appears to be to make Russia’s victory as costly as possible, part of their broader plan to attrit Russian forces this summer before an offensive in the fall. That may be working too:

Mounting casualties among Russian junior officers will likely further degrade Russian capabilities and lead to further morale breakdowns. The UK Ministry of Defense stated on May 30 that Russian forces have suffered devastating losses amongst mid and junior ranking officers. The UK MoD reported that battalion and brigade level officers continue to deploy forwards and into harm’s way—rather than commanding from rear areas and delegating to lower-ranking officers—due to senior Russian officers holding them to an “uncompromising level of responsibility” for their units. The British Defense Ministry further reported that junior officers are in charge of low-level tactical operations due to a lack of professionalism and modernization within the Russian Armed Forces and that the continued losses of these junior officers will complicate command and control efforts, particularly in Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) cobbled together from the survivors of multiple other units. ISW previously assessed that continued demoralization and poor command and control among Russian forces could present Ukrainian forces opportunities to conduct prudent counteroffensives, particularly as the Russian military continues to pour resources into the battle of Severodonetsk at the cost of other lines of effort.

We shouldn’t overstate the cleverness of what the Ukrainians are doing the way Russia’s apologists tried to spin the fiasco around Kiev as a “feint” by Moscow designed to distract the Ukrainian army from the “real” front in the Donbas. Losing Sievierodonetsk is a setback for the home team. But if they can further degrade the Russian army by making them work for it at a moment when they’re already hurting for manpower, they’re evidently willing to accept that consolation prize.

I’ll leave you with another clip from Russian media. This guy’s ready to fight for another decade or two, it seems, to make sure Ukraine is a Russian vassal state.

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